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Nearly everything about Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori’s 2012 debut 7 Boxes was good, and it duly won universal critical plaudits for its energy, its characters, its visuals and its grittiness. Stylistically, The Gold Seekers, its twisting, high-speed follow-up, is more of the same. But this is more explicitly comic, fluffier and more generic family-friendly fare, more knockabout and less focused. Though Paraguay’s foreign-language film Oscar submission could find offshore play at fests and in selected Spanish-speaking territories, elsewhere it seems unlikely to replicate 7 Boxes’ surprising breakout success.
Seekers is based on the Paraguayan legend that there’s buried treasure in the country, concealed there during the Great War that may have killed up to 70 percent of the country’s adult male population. The treasure created a generation of gold diggers (and indeed, news reports still pop up in Paraguay from time to time about some unfortunate hopeful being killed in pursuit of it).
In true ripping-yarn style, and in line with the film’s general air of innocent old-fashioned entertainment, an old treasure map falls out of a book which newspaper delivery boy Manu (Tomas Arredondo), living with his mother (Nelly Davalos), receives from his one-time gold-seeking, now-ailing grandfather. Manu, with the help of buddy Fito (Christian Ferreira) and older Elio (Mario Tonanez), who runs a local computer store, are drafted to help. It’s a sign of the film’s rapid pacing that the loot’s likely location has already been established after 20 minutes.
The gold is (perhaps) beneath an embassy building to which Manu must now try to gain entry by pretending to be romantically interested in one of the maids, Ilu (Cecilia Torres), herself under suspicion for having stolen a brooch belonging to the ambassador’s wife. (Though there’s a nice parallelism to the idea that both Manu and Ilu might be gold seekers, this particular subplot peters out into very little.) Much of the film’s second part takes place in the embassy, some of it filtered through security cameras, since Gold Seekers has now stopped being Indiana Jones and is now a heist movie.
7 Boxes had its moments of comedy, but it was also rooted in the rather miserable day-to-day reality of the people who made their living in Asuncion’s biggest market. Here, the social context fades from view as things proceed, despite a couple of isolated comments: “The real crime,” Fito replies to Elio’s remark about whether what they’re doing is right, “would be for us to remain broke.”
So although it’s entertaining and lively enough, Gold Seekers does lose out by not feeling as focused or as rooted. It’s an altogether glossier prospect, as though it was conceived with the box office in mind — and perhaps as an antidote to the international perception that all Latin American cinema has to involve impoverished kids shooting at each other for money. (At home, the strategy has worked, and it’s now the second-most-successful film ever at the Paraguayan box office — after 7 Boxes.)
Several tropes are carried over from the earlier pic — among them the high-energy search for life-transforming cash, the uncertain romance between the hero and an unwilling girl, a touch of transvestite comedy and corrupt security guards — but what’s lacking is the sense of urgency and danger that drove 7 Boxes so frenziedly along even during its less credible moments. One indicator of this is in an early scene where Manu leaps onto his bike in pursuit of the map, which has flown from his hand from the top of a building. He recovers the map a couple of minutes later, but unlike many of the multiple chases in 7 Boxes, in dramatic terms this one doesn’t need to happen.
Characterization is slim, with priority given to a zigzagging plotline which is able to maintain respectable levels of interest until the last 20 minutes or so, when it teeters over into farce. That said, the kids are peppy and attractive, there is some wonderfully classy bitchiness amongst the women working at the embassy and Tonanez, a standout, makes for a comically rumpled, crotch-scratching Elio.
Another of the film’s pleasures is Richard Careaga’s hyperactive photography, particularly in his creative use of those multi-angled, rapidly spliced tracking shots which helped to make 7 Boxes so special. Alfredo Galeano’s rapid-fire editing is also crucial. Languages spoken are Spanish, but also Guarani, Paraguay’s other official language.
Production companies: Maneglia Schembori Realizadores, Chena
Cast: Tomas Arredondo, Christian Ferreira, Mario Tonanez, Cecilia Torres, Sandra Sanabria, Nelly Davalos
Directors: Juan Carlos Maneglia, Tana Schembori
Screenwriters: Juan Carlos Maneglia, Mario Gonzalez Marti
Producers: Juan Carlos Maneglia, Tana Schembori, Christian Chena
Executive producer: Rene Ruiz Díaz
Director of photography: Richard Careaga
Art director: Carlo Spatuzza
Costume designer: Tania Simbron
Editor: Alfredo Galiano
Composer: Derlis Gonzalez
Casting director: Manuel Portillo
Sales: Maneglia Schembori Realizadores
In Spanish, Guarani
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